I’ve always been a bookworm and as my love for travel has grown, so too has my love for literature from around the world. So to celebrate World Book Day, I wanted to share with you some of my favourite, lesser-known travel books from different corners of the globe. Some will fuel your wanderlust, whilst others will give you a unique glimpse into a completely foreign country and culture.
So sit back, grab a cuppa, and enjoy my top recommended reads from each continent.
‘Marching Powder’, Rusty Young & Thomas McFadden
‘Marching Powder’ is the fascinating true story of Thomas McFadden: a British drug-smuggler who found himself banged up abroad in Bolivia’s most notorious prison – San Pedro. Thomas famously made a living by giving tourists behind-the-scenes tours of the prison (they even featured in Lonely Planet guides for a while!) and this book provides an extraordinary insight into everyday life in this bizarre South American jail, where prisoners buy their own cells and bring their wives and children to live inside with them.
At times it’s a harrowing read but it’s also witty and captivating and offers a rare insight into city life in La Paz and South American culture, beyond the prison walls.
‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, Jean Rhys
I first read this book whilst studying for my English ‘A’ level and it’s always stuck with me. This modern, feminist classic tells the untold story of the famous “madwoman in the attic” depicted in Jane Eyre.
An imagined prequel to Brontë’s literary masterpiece, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ traces Antoinette Rochester’s move from the luscious landscapes of the West Indies to a more desolate northern England, where she’s confined to the attic of her husband’s grand mansion.
‘The Tsar of Love & Techno’, Anthony Marra
I’d never heard of this New York Times “bestseller” until it was recommended at my book club, yet this turned out to be one of my favourite reads of last year.
Set against the bleak backdrop of Russia and Chechnya over the course of 75 years, Anthony Marra’s inter-connected collection of short stories brings together a cast of different characters in the cleverest of ways (kind of like ‘Love Actually’ but also nothing at all like ‘Love Actually’… read it and you’ll soon get my drift!)
From stories of Soviet image censors to Siberian ballerinas and prisoners in Chechnya, ‘The Tsar of Love and Techno’ is beautifully, almost poetically, written and so different to anything else you’ll read this year.
‘Love With a Chance of Drowning’, Torre DeRoche
I’m not normally a fan of “chick-lit” but this charming little travel memoir had me hook, line and sinker (excuse the pun).
‘Love with a chance of drowning’ is the debut work of Torre DeRoche, who set off on a once-in-a-lifetime sailing adventure with the man of her dreams… despite her morbid fear of the ocean (and many other things, as you’ll soon come to learn). Set amidst the most wanderlust-y of backdrops, island-hopping around French Polynesia, this book will inspire you to set off on an exotic adventure of your own (and battle some of your fears while you’re at it).
‘Shantaram’, Gregory David Roberts
I must confess, I’m still working my way through this epic – all 900+ pages of it! But ‘Shantaram’ is a must-read for anyone who’s ever wondered what life is like on the buzzing streets of Mumbai.
This captivating novel tells the (partially) true story of Gregory David Roberts – an escaped Australian convict, who tried to make a new life for himself in Bombay in the 1980’s. From falling in love to falling in with the mafia, it’s a riveting read and the descriptions of India are so vivid, it feels like you’re right there, navigating the chaotic streets, with him.
‘Purple Hibiscus’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is the first novel by Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (famous for the award-winning ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’) and tells the story of Kambili; a young teenage girl who lives a sheltered and regimented life in her family compound in Nigeria.
‘Purple Hibiscus’ explores some of the darker themes of Nigerian life in the post-civil-war era, from religious fanaticism at the hands of Kambili’s strict and abusive father to political unrest and violence on the streets. But it’s also a heart-warming and uplifting coming-of-age story, as Kambili discovers a world away from the walled compounds of her home, when she goes to live with her aunt in a neighbouring village.
‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’, Maria Semple
Trust me when I say, there aren’t many good fiction books out there about Antartica – and definitely none like this!
‘Where’d you go Bernadette?’ is a refreshingly original and witty novel that traces the disappearance of agoraphobe, architect, and mother Bernadette Fox, just days before she’s meant to embark on a family cruise to Antartica.
Most of the story is told through emails, faxes and reports, compiled by Bernadette’s 15-year-old daughter Bee, making this the sort of book you can devour in one. The book is mostly set in a drizzly Seattle but the descriptions of Antartica are both awe-inspiring and bleak all at once – from the “three stripes of gray” that make up the sea, land and sky to the “peacefulness, stillness and immensity of it all”.
So there you have it… just a few of my favourite reads from around the world. There are so many more books I could have included and I’d love to hear your recommendations! If you’re looking for more travel inspiration, check out my article on 10 of the best movies that will make you want to travel the world.